Finger tapping impairments are highly sensitive for evaluating upper motor neuron lesions

Afsaneh Shirani, Braeden D. Newton, Darin T. Okuda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Background: Identifying highly sensitive and reliable neurological exam components are crucial in recognizing clinical deficiencies. This study aimed to investigate finger tapping performance differences between patients with CNS demyelinating lesions and healthy control subjects. Methods: Twenty-three patients with multiple sclerosis or clinically isolated syndrome with infratentorial and/or cervical cord lesions on MRI, and 12 healthy controls were videotaped while tapping the tip of the index finger against the tip and distal crease of the thumb using both the dominant and non-dominant hand. Videos were assessed independently by 10 evaluators (three MS neurologists, four neurology residents, three advanced practice providers). Sensitivity and inter-evaluator reliability of finger tapping interpretations were calculated. Results: A total of 1400 evaluations (four videos per each of the 35 subjects evaluated by 10 independent providers) were obtained. Impairments in finger tapping against the distal thumb crease of the non-dominant hand, identified by neurologists, had the greatest sensitivity (84%, p < 0.001) for detecting impairment. Finger tapping against the thumb crease was more sensitive than the thumb tip across all categories of providers. The best inter-evaluator reliability was associated with neurologists' evaluations for the thumb crease of the non-dominant hand (kappa = 0.83, p < 0.001). Conclusions: Impaired finger tapping against the distal thumb crease of the non-dominant hand was a more sensitive technique for detecting impairments related to CNS demyelinating lesions. Our findings highlight the importance of precise examinations of the non-dominant side where impaired fine motor control secondary to an upper motor injury might be detectable earlier than the dominant side.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalBMC Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 21 2017



  • Demyelinating
  • Finger tapping
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurological examination
  • Upper motor neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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